Sunday, February 2, 2014

Promoting an Orchestra and the Importance of Personal Contact

Back in December, Tim Smith wrote enthusiastically about how the Baltimore Symphony was using a series of ads--last week, they won an award from the American Marketing Association of Baltimore--to acquaint the city with its players.
The images, done by videographer/producer James Bartolomeo of Protagonist Films, may not lead to a surge of ticket sales or mobs of new fans huddled outside the stage door. But it's always worth reminding the public that real live people are up onstage playing all that Beethoven, Mahler and Bernstein, people with individual personalities and tastes, people worth getting to know.
The best thing orchestras can do to raise their profiles within their own communities is to put the focus back on its musicians, and the Baltimore Symphony's campaign provides an effective model of how to use paid advertising to achieve this. But ads alone won't build loyalty: it takes personal appearances where people can meet the musicians face to face, learn about what they do, and hear from the musicians themselves about why the music matters.

Professional sports teams do this kind of outreach very well. A friend of mine--no sports aficionado--here in Rochester recounted a story just last night of how his winning a pizza party with players from the local Americans minor-league team turned him into a hockey fan. He told me about a conversation he had with one particular player that humanized the game for him, making it more relatable.

Unfortunately, too many orchestra players still believe that their responsibility to the city they play in--and whose citizens pay their salary--begins at the first downbeat, and ends the minute the conductor leaves stage. A real commitment to engagement is required to build on the kind of momentum that the Baltimore Symphony has created.